Guelph Versifiers of the 19th Century
David J. Knight, editor
(Vocamus Editions, 2014)
Reviewed by Mike Fan
Every city has a story, but what does Guelph have tucked away in its unassuming corners? David J. Knight's fascinating anthology Guelph Versifiers of the 19th Century scratches the surface of the delicious secrets of our city. How better to learn about the origins of our city than from some of the first people who lived and breathed in Guelph?
The anthology examines poets from all walks of life spanning the change-filled 19th century. The variety is amusing and astounding. The collection spans poetry from Guelph founder John Galt to anonymous amateur poets to neglected gems of the ever-popular John McCrae. All of the poetry is rare and has perhaps not been read since they were first published in early Guelph newspapers and journals. Odes to sewing machines, bitter tirades lamenting the politics of early Guelph, and emotive monologues demonstrate that there is certainly more to Guelph than meets the eye. It is a surreal and eye-opening experience to read charmingly archaic poetry by long-forgotten Guelphites who once walked the same steps as we do every day. It’s a strange and pleasant surprise to see the Speed River and Wyndham Street in the eyes of a different century and mindset!
There are poems for every taste and each reader will find their own pearls in the mix. Some of my personal favourites include Henrietta "Hetty" Hazelwood and her vivid and emotionally charged imagery, Charles C. Foster's nostalgic "The City of Guelph", and Thomas Laidlaw's succinct Dickinsonian tidbits. Of special note is the delusional yet amusing James Gay, Canada's self-titled Poet Laureate, whose poetry is definitely worth reading for its "quality". David J. Knight’s charming introductions to each poet and succinct footnotes shed tasteful led on the fascinating lives of these Guelph poets. It truly makes me wonder why more city histories are not explored through anthologies of their poetry. A sequel to Guelph Versifiers is certainly in order!